USC Price School of Public Policy

EMHA grad aims to improve health care delivery in role as Chief Medical Officer

July 6, 2017

Don Larsen, EMHA '17

By Matthew Kredell

As a chief medical officer, Don Larsen already held one of the top leadership posts in the hospital hierarchy. But in an era of continuous healthcare reform, Larsen recognized the value of advancing his education in the health field – particularly, the administrative side – to ensure he was doing all he could to provide the best quality of care possible for patients at the lowest cost.

So after having amassed eight years of experience as a CMO at three different health facilities for Keck Medicine of USC, and previously earning MD and MBA degrees, Larsen decided to pursue an Executive Master of Health Administration from the USC Price School of Public Policy, which he completed in May.

“I took the MHA because I wanted to understand the administrative aspects of managing healthcare across the continuum of environments that a patient needs to traverse, and to deliver that care most cost-effectively,” Larsen said. “I think the knowledge that I acquired from the MHA program truly helps me understand and prepare for my evolving role as a chief medical officer.”

Professional accomplishments

Larsen family

Don Larsen with with his wife Linda, daughter Natalie and son Christopher

When he enrolled in the program in 2014, Larsen was the inaugural CMO at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital. Halfway through his degree program, he got an offer from Providence St. Joseph Health, the third-largest not-for-profit health system in the country, to assume the role of CMO at Saint John’s Health Center as well as the role of Interim Executive Director at the affiliated John Wayne Cancer Institute, both in Santa Monica.

“I left for professional growth, and I think just being enrolled in the MHA program helped me qualify for that position,” Larsen said.

Larsen and his family have a long history at USC, which began with his wife, Linda Hovanessian-Larsen. He was a radiologist doing his residency at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center in the late 1980s when he met Linda, then a medical student at the Keck School.

After getting married and taking jobs elsewhere, they returned to Los Angeles in 1998 and both got hired as faculty at Keck, he in the department of neurosurgery and his wife in radiology. It was at this time that, eyeing a move to administrative work, Larsen added an MBA at the USC Marshall School of Business.

In 2009, Larsen became the first CMO for Keck Hospital of USC and the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. His wife remains at the Keck School. His daughter, Natalie, also earned her USC diploma this past May, having just completed a bachelor’s degree from the Leventhal School of Accounting. And his son, Christopher, is currently a sophomore at Marshall.

Value added

Don, Natalie

Don Larsen and his daughter, Natalie, each earned a degree from USC in May.

“It was an easy decision to go to Price because we very much value USC educational opportunities,” Larsen said.

Larsen credits the Executive MHA program with providing him a better sense of advanced payer models for healthcare financing, and the applicability of digital health technologies and how they pay into the future healthcare delivery paradigm.

“A memorable part was learning innovative ways to use digital health technology to engage patients in managing their own health and wellness,” Larsen said. “Understanding the financing aspects of managing the health of a population was very valuable as well.”

In addition, Larsen noted how Professor Glenn Melnick’s instruction on healthcare economics was especially impactful.

According to Melnick, “one of the strengths of our executive MHA program is the experience and accomplishments of our student body. Dr. Larsen is a prime example, coming to our program with a wealth of experience that both faculty and students benefited from.”

Larsen said he could see the EMHA degree opening up more doors for him in the future.

“What I’ve found in my career is that things work out best when you are prepared for an opportunity when it comes your way,” he said. “I can’t say where I’ll go next with this degree, but I can tell you I’m very confident that more opportunities will avail themselves to me having acquired the degree and education.”